BY NATASHA BARSOTTI - A St Petersburg court today convicted Russia's most prominent gay rights activist for flouting the city's new "gay propanganda" law.

Nikolai Alexeyev, who became the first person to be found guilty of breaching the city's law, told reporters he was fined 5,000 rubles ($170) for picketing the city hall with a poster that read, "Homosexuality is not a perversion."

Should a higher court uphold the ruling, Alexeyev says, he intends to appeal his conviction at the Russian Constitutional Court and, if necessary, move on to the European Court of Human Rights for redress.

Alexeyev has maintained that the various "gay propaganda" laws that are now in place in several Russian cities are vague and unenforceable. So far, Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, Kostroma and St Petersburg have passed legislation forbidding promotion of gay propaganda among minors. Novosibirsk, Russia's third-largest city, is the latest jurisdiction to entertain such legislation, which regional deputy Alexander Ilyushchenko said is meant to prevent people having to explain that homosexuality exists.

"There is no same application of these laws everywhere," Alexeyev told Xtra on May 2. "It all started with Ryazan in 2006, and our [picketing] actions in 2009 against the Ryazan laws -- which at that time no one really cared about or talked about." Alexeyev says the jurisprudence in Ryazan is that they consider the pickets in front of the library there as a violation of the law, and as propaganda of homosexuality.

"It's only because of that that [the Ryazan] case is now pending at the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee," he says. Alexeyev, who is a lawyer, says the UN Committee is scheduled to hear the Ryazan case in July. "That will be the first international legal response to this legislation in Russia. It will become a basis for any further decisions of the European Court or in Russia. That will be a very important legal step," he adds. "If we didn't do this in 2009, we would be nowhere now challenging these laws on the international level."

After Arkhangelsk passed their own version of the propaganda law in 2011, there were further picketing actions in front of that city's state institutions, the children's library and other public events. All the public events were banned under the law, and three activists, including Alexeyev, were charged with breaching the law in January. "The court confirmed that it was propaganda, and the appeal court also confirmed the decision, so this case of Arkhangelsk is now ready for the European Court [of Human Rights], where we will apply in the next couple of weeks," he says.

Before Alexeyev's conviction in St Petersburg, that city's authorities selectively detained about 17 queer activists and their allies for unfurling rainbow flags, banners and wearing rainbow-coloured items at a May 1 civil rights march, saying those items were not authorized. Released after seven hours, the activists were not charged for promoting gay propaganda to minors but were charged under two other administrative provisions: for disobeying police orders and breaching the rules of the march.

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